The Anti-Slavery Movement
In 1835 William Lloyd Garrison’s New England Anti-Slavery Society became the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society as an adjunct to the American Anti-Slavery Society. By then, developing networks of local anti-slavery societies—the idea of bottom-up reform—had gained favor. The Essex County Anti-Slavery Society was formed on April 4, 1834 at a meeting in Topsfield by 46 men from eleven towns in Essex County. They resolved to promote the establishment of local anti-slavery societies in every town in the county that did not already have one.1Abolitionists and the Underground Railroad in Essex County: https://www.nps.gov/sama/learn/historyculture/upload/UGRRsm.pdf. Topsfield, Newburyport, Salem, Beverly, Danvers, Andover, and Marblehead were the first. Present at the 1834 meeting were Rev. Gardner B. Perry, a Congregational minister, and the poet John Greenleaf Whittier. The new zeal for grassroots activism extended to Cape Ann, where anti-slavery groups formed in the neighborhoods of West Gloucester and Annisquam to discuss ways to eliminate slavery in their communities. In Annisquam, the anti-slavery group, founded in 1839, apparently debated (and rejected as unfeasible) a proposal to pool their money to purchase all the slaves from local slaveowners for the purpose of liberating them.2Handwritten notes for meeting minutes of 1834, found in 2012 in a lap desk in the collection of the Annisquam Historical Society.
In Massachusetts, abolitionists focused on promoting free blacks and protecting escaped slaves, as well as on protesting southern slavery, but they also had to be concerned with protecting their right to protest using free speech and nonviolent public demonstration. The anti-slavery movement had sown deep divisions in some communities, such that protesters sometimes faced violent confrontations or risked the loss of civil liberties. As a result, and with increasing tensions over events leading to the Civil War, anti-slavery societies either became more militant or fractured over the choice between active resistance and non-violence. Many other issues divided abolitionists: for example, was slavery illegal and unconstitutional in addition to being immoral? In 1849 the Massachusetts educator Horace Mann addressed Congress in a speech, “Slavery and the Slave Trade”, attempting to prove that slavery, and not just the slave trade, was illegal.3 http://medicolegal.tripod.com/mannuos.htm Even after passage of the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery, some people demanded that the original articles of the United States Constitution be rewritten to omit references to slavery.4The U.S. Constitution to this day retains wording relating to slavery, as follows: Article I, Section 9: The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a Tax or duty may be imposed on such Importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each Person.” Article IV, Section 2: No Person held to Service or Labour in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labour, but shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labour may be due.
Anti-slavery sentiment was not universally shared in New England, however. Cape Ann, whose prosperity had been based on the slave economy, was not in the forefront of the abolition movement. Abolitionists were seen by some as threatening to local economic prosperity, because by the late 1840s abolitionists on principle were boycotting goods produced by slave labor, especially cane sugar and clothing made of cotton. The so-called “free-produce movement”, spearheaded by Quakers5http://www.americanabolitionists.com/illustrated-list-of-abolitionists-and-activists.html and supported by reformers such as Wendell Phillips, targeted other commodities made by slaves as well, including various dry goods, shoes, soaps, ice cream, and candy.6Glickman, Lawrence B., 2004, Buy for the Sake of the Slave: Abolitionism and the Origins of American Consumer Activism. In American Quarterly 56 (4): 889-912. Other related movements boycotted tobacco and rum.
Concerns about the local economy, and about the potential loss of local control that abolition might bring, would have resonated with the people of Cape Ann. In an 1861 referendum (the same year that people were buying shares in the Rockport Steam Cotton Mill. Gloucester voted to preserve the Union and condemn slavery as immoral. In the same instrument, however, they voted to preserve the right of slaveowners to their property and the constitutional right of states to have slavery if they wished.7Quoted in Babson, History of Gloucester, p. 119. Latent racism undoubtedly also played a role, along with the fear that waves of freed slaves arriving as cheap labor would rob Cape Ann workers of jobs. In 1863 forty-three Rockport residents signed a petition to have a law passed prohibiting “any more persons of color” from becoming citizens of Massachusetts.8Harvard University - Collection Development Department, Widener Library, HCL / Massachusetts Anti-Slavery and Anti-Segregation Petitions; House Unpassed Legislation 1863, leave to withdraw, SC1/series 230. Massachusetts Archives. Boston, Mass.
To the Honorable Senate and House of Representatives of Massachusetts, in General Court assembled, we citizens and legal voters of the Town of Rockport in the county of Essex respectfully request Your Honors to pass a Law forbidding any more persons of color from coming into the State of Massachusetts to become citizens of the State.
Rockport, Feby [February] 10th, 1863
H. S. Philbrook
Even Pool Jr.
Chas. S. Tarr
John J. Manning
Joseph T. Haskins
J. S. Choate
J. F. Moore
H. P. Bray
M. H. Knight
Albert M. Sanborn
W. M. Manning
E. B. Andrews
Edward G. Slocum
S. P. Randall
Chas. Knowlton Jr.
Alpheus (?) Pierce
Francis Tarr Jr.
Levi S. Gott
George W. Tarr
The Fugitive Slave Act
The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 created further division as some people helped return runaways to their owners, while others helped them escape. The Act benefitted bounty hunting enterprises that had begun a hundred years earlier. In 1851 Robert Rantoul Jr. of Beverly, formerly of Gloucester and a member of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, gave a speech in Lynn condemning the Fugitive Slave Act.9http://medicolegal.tripod.com/rantoul1851.htm He was among the lawyers and legislators who defended escaped slaves in court and entreated state and federal governments to legislate against slavery. Other lawyers in the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society who defended African Americans seeking freedom included Samuel Sewall, Ellis Loring, and Rufus Spalding. In 1854 in landmark cases, Boston lawyers Richard Henry Dana Jr. and Robert Morris of Salem, one of the first black lawyers in the country, unsuccessfully defended fugitive slaves Anthony Burns and Shadrach Minkins. Burns’ forced return to slavery in Virginia sparked riots in Boston, and abolitionists eventually found a way to buy him back.10http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/african/afam006.html#obj3 To prevent the same outcome, Minkins was hidden away and led to freedom in Canada to escape his judgment.
On July 4, 1854, members of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society met in Harmony Grove in Framingham, elected officers, including Charles Hovey of Gloucester, and gave speeches before thousands of people gathered to protest the Fugitive Slave Act.12https://www.walden.org/lectures/thoreaus-lectures-before-walden-lecture-43/ William Lloyd Garrison spoke after dramatically burning a copy of the law. Other speakers included Sojourner Truth, Henry David Thoreau, Charles Remond, Stephen S. Foster, and Wendell Phillips, a champion of women’s and Native Americans’ rights as well as of abolition. Thoreau, who toured and wrote about Gloucester’s Dogtown in 1858, gave a speech on “Slavery in Massachusetts”.13https://www.walden.org/web/viewer.html?file=https://www.walden.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/SlaveryMassachusetts.pdf . Phillips, who also spoke in Gloucester in 1859 and again in 1865, also cautioned that Massachusetts and the non-South were not really as opposed to slavery as people assumed
“We shall never get any better, until we see ourselves in an honest glass; until we get out of this habit of praising ourselves. The people of Massachusetts are not Abolitionists—but a very small portion of them. The State is a pro-slavery State, as a whole. The Fourth of July is a pro-slavery day—a day meant to commemorate the independence of thirteen States, in every one of which there were slaves when the Declaration was issued; and not one of which took the slightest measure, for years afterwards, to free a slave.”14https://www.walden.org/lectures/thoreaus-lectures-before-walden-lecture-43/
Cape Ann Abolitionists
In this fraught context, other people with connections to Cape Ann were members or lecturers of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society or its local chapters, begun in the 1830s.15Phillips, Wendell, 1852, Speeches Before the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, Boston.
Henry C. Wright, for example, whose letterbook was found in the Annisquam Historical Society’s
Deluge 8 Firehouse on Walnut St. in Gloucester, gave a speech at the 1838 annual meeting of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society at Faneuil Hall in Boston.16Proceedings of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society at the Annual Meetings held in 1854, 1855, and 1856, Boston:
In 1854 Maria Weston Chapman and John T. Sargent served as “counsellors” providing guidance to the organization, and Mehitable Haskell of Gloucester was a nominating officer.17Officers, Members and Supporters of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society: http://www.americanabolitionists.com/massachusetts-anti-slavery-society.html Mehitable, or “Aunt Hitty” (1789-1878) and her brother Thomas (1791-1873) were both very active in the anti-slavery movement. Thomas Haskell was president of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society in 1842 and arranged for Charles Remond and Parker Pillsbury to visit Rockport during a Quarterly Meeting of the Society at the Universalist Church in Rockport.18Bray, Maria Herrick, 1908, Aunt Hitty: Biographical and Reminiscent Narration of Aunt Hitty and Uncle Thomas Haskell (Salem); http://hfa.haskells.net/haskellfamilyna/pafg62.htm. The Society at the Universalist Church in Rockport is currently known as the Unitarian Universalist Society of Rockport.
Abolitionist Speaker, Charles Redmond
Other counsellors included Edmund Quincy, John Rogers, Charles K. Whipple, William T. Bowditch, and a former Universalist minister, John Murray Spear. Maria Chapman and others were also members of the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society (BFASS) and the Women’s Suffrage Movement, which had gotten underway in 1848 at Seneca Falls.19https://www.womenshistory.org/resources/general/woman-suffrage-movement Speakers for the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society who were also in the women’s rights movement included, for example, Lucy Stone, Harriet Martineau, and Anne Warren Weston. Counsellor John T. Sargent was a Unitarian minister in Boston related to Judith Sargent Murray of Gloucester.20John Turner Sargent: http://uudb.org/articles/johnturnersargent.html
Another active member, officer, and supporter of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society was Gloucester resident Charles F. Hovey, wealthy owner of a department store on Summer Street in Boston (later the site of Jordan Marsh),21https://www.historicnewengland.org/explore/collections-access/capobject/?refd=EP001.01.031.01.01.031 whose house still stands at 4-6 Hovey St.22Fitz Henry Lane Historical Archive: http://fitzhenrylaneonline.org/historical_material/?type=Gloucester+Buildings+%26+Businesses§ion=Hovey%2C+Charles+House He and a group of businessmen provided most of the funding for the American Anti-Slavery Society. Hovey was also a women’s rights activist and a member of the Boston Vigilance Committee (founded by Thomas Dalton and the Brattle St. merchants), which directly aided runaway slaves and supported the Underground Railroad.23Officers, Members and Supporters of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society: http://www.americanabolitionists.com/massachusetts-anti-slavery-society.html. One might reasonably speculate that the Hovey House was made available for that purpose, although it was not on one of the direct escape routes through Essex County.24Abolitionists and the Underground Railroad in Essex County: https://www.nps.gov/sama/learn/historyculture/upload/UGRRsm.pdf A house owned by William H. Haskell, whose property extended between Pleasant St. and Dale Ave. in Gloucester, also was reputed to be on the Underground Railroad.
Hovey Department Store Ad
Source: Shopping Days in Retro Boston
The Underground Railroad
The Underground Railroad was a sophisticated network of safe houses and assistance to runaways. Although the main routes in Essex County were overland, the rivers and harbors of the coast provided important escape routes by sea for runaways headed to Canada. At great personal risk, free blacks, white abolitionists, and religious leaders were among the railroad’s “conductors”. Other than the Haskell House and Hovey House in Gloucester, stops on the Underground Railroad included the Daniel Friend House on 8 Friend St. and the Bingham Home on 7 Central St., both in
Manchester-by-the-Sea, and the Old Parsonage on 19 North Main St. in Ipswich.25Abolitionists and the Underground Railroad in Essex County: https://www.nps.gov/sama/learn/historyculture/upload/UGRRsm.pdf
Essex County Escape Routes on the Underground Railroad
William Haskell was one of the first to cast abolition votes in Gloucester and knew William Lloyd Garrison and other luminaries in the anti-slavery movement, such as Wendell Phillips, Horace Greeley, and Parker Pillsbury.26Obituary reproduced in Good Morning Gloucester, August 24, 2018: https://goodmorninggloucester.org/2018/08/24/president-lincoln-appointed-postmaster-main-street-proprietor-gold-star-dad-overseer-of-the-poor-gardener-and-abolitionist-william-h-haskell-house-history-44-pleasant-st-gloucester-mass/#more-486204. Gloucester selectman Nathaniel Babson was also a strong supporter of abolition, while other members of the Babson clan invested in cotton and participated as sea captains in the Surinam trade.27Fitz-Henry lane Historical Archive: http://fitzhenrylaneonline.org/historical_material/?section=Babson%2C+Nathaniel
Officers of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society included James N. Buffun, John Remond of Salem, an African American caterer, his son Charles L. Remond and wife Sarah, and Parker Pillsbury, born in Andover, a minister and lecturer for the organization.28From Wilson, Henry, History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, Vol. 2, Houghton, Mifflin, 1872, 338-351 James Buffun, a Quaker who became mayor of Lynn, corresponded with the abolitionist Henry C. Wright to arrange meetings for Frederick Douglass in Scotland.29Chapter: Activity of the Abolitionists. - Action of Northern Legislatures, by Henry Wilson, in History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, 1872: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Massachusetts_Anti-Slavery_Society In 1845 Buffum went to Scotland with Douglass to protest against the Free Church of Scotland accepting money donated by American slaveholders. Wright corresponded with them both and with abolitionists in Scotland and Ireland, helping to arrange introductions and accommodations.30Wright Letterbook, e.g., letters to Andrew Paton
Mehitable Haskell and Her Brother Thomas Haskell
Mehitable Haskell (1789-1878), known as Hitty most of her life, and Thomas Haskell (1791-1873) were the youngest of nine children of Aaron Haskell and Sarah (Burnham) Haskell who lived in West Gloucester. Thomas married and kept a farm in West Gloucester. Mehitable remained single and worked as a “tailoress”, going from house to house cutting and sewing clothing.31Bray, Maria Herrick, Aunt Hitty, Salem Press, 1908
For most of their adult lives Thomas and Mehitable were deeply involved in various aspects of social reform: The Peace Society (dedicated to abolishing the use of arms or force as deterrents), the Washingtonian Temperance organization (advocating a path to sobriety akin to today’s Alcoholics Anonymous), Women’s Suffrage (campaigning for equality between the sexes) and the Abolitionist movement (demanding the end of slavery). Although deeply religious, neither was affiliated with any particular church. Thomas was a shareholder in Liberty Hall – an interdenominational meeting place in West Gloucester, and at her death Mehitable requested two dear friends to eulogize her rather than a minister.32Bray, Maria Herrick, Aunt Hitty, Salem Press, 1908
Thomas became involved in the Anti-Slavery movement through his association with the Peace movement. He, along with Charles Spear and Abraham Haskell, represented Gloucester at a Peace Convention in Boston in September 1838, making their voices heard among such notables as Henry C. Wright, William Lloyd Garrison, Maria Chapman and Wendell Phillips.33Henry C. Wright (1797-1870) abolitionist, pacifist, anarchist, suffragist. William Lloyd Garrison (1805-1879) abolitionist, suffragist, journalist, social reformer, publisher of The Liberator an abolitionist newspaper. Maria W. Chapman (1806-1885) abolitionist, editor of The Liberator and The Non-Resistant. Wendell Phillips (1811-1884) abolitionist, Native-American advocate, attorney.
It was agreed that the organization would be known as the New England Non-Resistance Society, and Article III of their constitution stated that “any person, without distinction of sex or color, who consents to the principles of this Constitution, and contributes to the funds of this Society, may become a member and be entitled to vote at its meetings.”34The Liberator, Sep. 28, 1838
The following year “Thomas Haskell and 37 others of Gloucester” were among those petitioning the Massachusetts Legislature to vote against the admission of Florida and Texas into the Union as slave states, and to prohibit by law slave traffic between the States. Another family member, Sarah Haskell, “and 67 others of Gloucester”35The Liberator, Mar. 15, 1839 were among those petitioning for the abolition of slavery and the slave trade in the District of Columbia and the Northwest Territories. Thomas was then the President and Sarah the Secretary of the West Gloucester Anti-Slavery Society36The Liberator, Apr. 26, 1839 and Thomas and Abraham Haskell traveled to Boston to attend a meeting of the Massachusetts Anti-slavery Society.37The Liberator, Mar. 29, 1839
By January 1842 Thomas Haskell had become a Vice-President of the Essex County Anti-Slavery Society, when it met in the Universalist Church in Rockport. Reacting to the slave revolt on board the Creole38The Creole was a slave ship carrying slaves to New Orleans from Virginia to Louisiana (domestic slave trading was still permissible under U.S. law). The slaves revolted, took over the ship and sailed for Nassau in the English Bahamas where slavery was illegal. A slave trader and one slave died during the confrontation. The slaves were absolved of piracy by the Admiralty Court in Nassau and won their freedom but the plantation owners of the American South were outraged and sued for the return of their slaves. the previous November, the Society’s members, while decrying the violence, applauded the result stating:
“that the prejudice existing in this country against the negro, on account of his complexion, which is so apparent not only on southern plantations, but in the churches, stages, steamboats, railroad cars, grave-yards, and other associations and arrangements of the North, is manifestly vulgar, cruel and murderous; and ought to be as far removed from every human breast, as it is from that God who is no respecter of persons.”39
Thomas continued with the various Anti-Slavery groups, speaking at a convention held by the local Society in Gloucester Town Hall in July 1848.40Charles F. Hovey was President. The Liberator, July 12, 1848 In 1849 the Essex County Abolitionists decried the actions of President Zachary Taylor who, they opined, was “stained all over with human blood, and the owner of a large number of his fellow-countrymen as his slaves and chattels personal.”41The Liberator, July 27, 1849
In 1849 Thomas revisited the Non-Resistance Society by adding his name to those petitioning for the abolition of the death penalty in Massachusetts.42Boston Courier, Feb.22, 1849 A year later the petition was repeated with Thomas “and 23 others” from Gloucester signing on, and Mehitable’s name officially appeared in the social reform arena for the first time: “Mehitable Haskell and 21 others, females.”43The Boston Daily Atlas, Feb. 16, 1850 Except for this instance Mehitable seems to have come to Anti-Slavery through the conduit of Women’s Suffrage, many of whose advocates were also abolitionists. She was among the speakers at the second National Women’s Rights Convention held in Worcester, MA in 1851, where she said:
“This meeting, as I understand it, was called to discuss the question of Woman’s Rights. Well, I do not pretend to know exactly what woman’s rights are; but I know that I have groaned for forty, yea, for fifty years, under a sense of woman’s wrongs.”44McCord, Louisa S.C., Political and Social Essays, 1995, fn7 p.129
Her speech was notable enough that the Milwaukee Daily Sentinel reported that a “gallant member of the Tennessee Legislature, fired with a sense of the woes of women”45Milwaukee Daily Sentinel, Dec. 8, 1851 made reference to it during a session.
Throughout the 1850s Thomas and Mehitable Haskell held influential positions in the Essex County Anti-Slavery Society and contacts were made through various meetings and events. Wendell Phillips, who was among the speakers at the Women’s Rights Convention in 1851, became a close friend of Mehitable, frequently visiting her in her West Gloucester home, as did Lucy Stone.46Lucy Stone (1818-1893) abolitionist, suffragist, publisher of the Woman’s Journal. First woman in Massachusetts to earn a college degree (from Oberlin College, Ohio, in 1847). In 1858 Mehitable was chosen to be on the Business Committee of the Massachusetts Anti-slavery Society with William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips, Edmund Quincy, Maria W. Chapman, Stephen S. Foster, Charles L. Remond, Parker Pillsbury and Henry C. Wright.47The Liberator, Feb. 5, 1858. Edmund Quincy (1808-1877) abolitionist, author, inventor, editor of The Abolitionist, member of the Non-Resistance Society. Stephen S. Foster (1809-1881) abolitionist, suffragist, advocate of temperance, author. Charles L. Redmond an African-American. Parker Pillsbury (1809-1898) minister, abolitionist, suffragist.
In 1865 Thomas Haskell, “that veteran reformer,”48The Liberator, Aug. 15, 1851 advertised in the abolitionist newspaper The Liberator for a married couple to take over the running of his West Gloucester farm, stipulating that any applicants were not to use “intoxicating drinks, tobacco, or profane language.”49The Liberator, Jan 6, 1865 He died a childless widower in December 1873, leaving his property to several nieces and nephews.50Essex County Probate #41883 Thomas Haskell, farmer, 2 Dec. 1873 Mehitable died five years later and her funeral was held from her West Gloucester home November 5, 1878. Instead of the usual officiating minister she asked that Wendell Phillips and Lucy Stone speak. Wendell Phillips said:
“She still made time, out of what we should have thought perhaps a narrow life, to consider the broadest problems, and think upon all the disputed questions of the age. And although deeply interested, profoundly interested, in such questions, I never saw in her the slightest intolerance. …[her] active brain has been by the blessing of God a strength and a help to break the chains of four millions of people, and remove the deeper prejudice even than that which curbs the sphere of woman.”51Bray, Maria Herrick, Aunt Hitty, Salem Press, 1908
Abolitionist Speakers on Cape Ann
Famous abolitionists spoke to audiences on Cape Ann and elsewhere in Essex and Middlesex counties between the late 1840s and late 1860s. In 1861, for example, Parker Pillsbury gave a lecture52http://medicolegal.tripod.com/forlorn.htm The Church As It Is: The Forlorn Hope of Slavery
by Rev. Parker Pillsbury
at the First Universalist Society of Rockport that was marred by an act of violence. His audience included members of the Essex County Anti-Slavery Society, but roughly half the congregation opposed his presence and anti-slavery stance.53Frederick Douglass, Partial Speaking Itinerary, 1839-46: http://nbhistoricalsociety.org/douglass/DouglassVolume_1_itenerary.pdf He had been invited by free speech advocate and minister at the time Rev. Stillman Barden.54The Liberator, December 13, 1861, p. 199 According to one account of the attack on Pillsbury:
A Bomb-Shell in Church.—On Sunday evening, November 1, 1861, there were in the Universalist Church an audience of about seventy persons listening to an address on the slavery question by Parker Pillsbury. While he was speaking some person threw a sort of bomb-shell through a window on the north side of the house; it fell near Mr. Pillsbury’s feet and exploded. The audience were greatly frightened and left the house, which was filled with smoke. After the smoke cleared some few persons returned to the church, and Mr. Pillsbury resumed his lecture. There was no other disturbance. This missile was made by wrapping a few pieces of coal and a quantity of powder in a cloth and securing it by a cord tightly drawn about it; the whole saturated with spirits of turpentine….
Chroniclers of this event at the time55Hurd, Duane Hamilton, 1888, History of Essex County, Massachusetts, with Biographical Sketches of its Many Pioneers and Prominent Men, p. 1403. The passage is quoted from Lemuel Gott and Ebenezer Pool, History of the Town of Rockport, 1888, p. 173.
suggested it might have been an inside job, as the first several rows of pews were unaccountably unoccupied at the time, and it was known that a substantial number of members of the congregation were opposed to having a speaker on abolition.
In January 1842 Frederick Douglass also spoke at a quarterly meeting of the Essex County Anti-Slavery Society in Rockport, uneventfully, and in 1844 and 1845 he addressed the Essex County Anti-Slavery Society in various towns, including Dodge Hall in Manchester-by-the-Sea,56Frederick Douglass Partial Speaking Itinerary: http://nbhistoricalsociety.org/douglass/DouglassVolume_1_itenerary.pdf which was in the Manchester Hotel on Center Street, no longer in existence.57Chris Virdin, Manchester Historical Museum, September 23, 2019
Wendell Phillips spoke in Gloucester in October 1865, followed by Frederick Douglass in November, who spoke at Gloucester’s Methodist Church at 436 Washington St. It was a time of national trauma that had further radicalized the abolition movement. In 1857 the Supreme Court had decided that Dred Scott was property, not a person entitled to freedom. In 1859 the abolitionist John Brown had been hanged for treason. In 1863 African Americans had begun fighting in the 54th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry of the Union Army. In 1865 the Civil War had just ended, preserving the Union, and President Abraham Lincoln had just been assassinated. Douglass’s talk, “Abraham Lincoln, A Speech”, referred to in local papers as “The Assassination of Lincoln and Its Lessons”58Gloucester Telegraph, October 11, 1865. was an impassioned warning that the work of the anti-slavery movement was not over despite the fact that Emancipation had been declared, pending ratification, and that the Civil War was over, pending Reconstruction. Abraham Lincoln’s great promise had been betrayed through assassination, and the future was far from certain.59Lecture of Frederick Douglass, Cape Ann Light and Gloucester Telegraph, October 28, 1865, pp. 1, 2; Cape Ann Advertiser, Oct. 27, p. 2.
Douglass may have been concerned that Cape Ann’s wealthy cotton and sugar shippers and merchants would resume commercial relations with southern suppliers for plantation products, eroding or even reversing the hard-won achievements of the abolition movement. He began his speech by castigating a bloody war stubbornly begun by a privileged southern class (“a malignant oligarchy”) wishing to perpetuate itself through slavery (“a slavocracy”), and by eulogizing the terrible loss (“unspeakable calamity”) of “one of the best men that ever presided over this or any other country.” Lincoln was “the architect of his own fortune,” which was what slavery denied to those less fortunate. Lincoln’s life, he said, pointed to both “the dangers and the duties” of their time in history. The dangers were that the slave economy and racial inequality would not be overthrown after all. The duties included embracing the principles that Lincoln’s life represented: of righteousness, progressiveness, honorableness, humaneness, and dedication to freedom in unity.
In whatever else this Union may fail, in this we are resolved not to fail: that Slavery, in root and branch, in leaf and fibre, shall be blotted out forever in this nation….We commit a great mistake if we do not now and forever settle the negro question; we have got hold of it, and should settle it now and forever, in light of our recent contest, and of justice, so that it may never again arise, in any form.
What people in the Gloucester audience thought of Douglass’s speech, we do not know. The Gloucester Telegraph noted that the speech was “extremely radical” and “there was little applause, as the lecture was in a church edifice.”
Newspaper Announcement of Frederick Douglass Speech in Gloucester
Source: Gloucester Telegraph, October 25, 1865 (public domain)
The Henry C. Wright Letterbook as a Window on the Times
An example of the vicissitudes of the times is the career of an abolitionist with local ties: Henry C. Wright. Wright60Henry Clarke Wright: http://www.masshist.org/database/1585 was raised in New York, apprenticed as a hatmaker, studied at Andover Theological Seminary, and became a pastor of the Congregational Church in West Newbury. In 1823 he married a wealthy widow, Elizabeth LeBreton Stickney of Newburyport. Elizabeth Stickney had relatives in Annisquam, including John F. Stickney, who died in Annisquam in 1866, as did his second wife, Mary Ann Tarr Hillier. Stickneys had married Cape Ann Lanes, Sargents, Chards, Duleys, and Peirces. Exactly how Wright’s letterbook (a scrapbook into which letters received or copies of letters sent were pasted) ended up in Annisquam’s Deluge 8 firehouse, however, remains a mystery.61The Wright Letterbook, Annisquam Historical Society Journal, December 2015. The Wright letterbook was given to the Annisquam Historical Society (AHS) of the Annisquam Village Hall Association in 1956 by Miss Helen Elizabeth Muzzey, a descendant of both Leonards and Savilles of Annisquam. How the Wright letterbook came into the possession of the Muzzey family is unknown.
The 165 handwritten letters and notes in the letterbook relate to Wright’s efforts to start protest movements and anti-slavery societies in the Northeast and to his speaking tour in England, Scotland, and Ireland in 1843-1846.62Some of these letters have been transcribed by Holly Clay Smith of the Annisquam Historical Society. In 2016 the letterbook was temporarily placed in the care of the Cape Ann Museum in Gloucester. Correspondents include George Thompson, Mary Carpenter, John Murray, James Robertson, William Lovett, Andrew Paton, Daniel O’Connell, Sarah and Elizabeth Poole, Richard Webb, and other prominent and lesser-known figures in the Quaker, Universalist, and International emancipation movements that preceded the Civil War. The letters in the Henry C. Wright Letterbook refer to individuals and events of the times, including William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, and the plight of the slaves Ephraim and Ancona Robin James; the establishment of the London Working Men’s Association, Scottish Anti-Slavery Society, and Glasgow Emancipation Society; and the development of ideas promoting activism for women’s rights, pacifism, and anarchism.63The Wright Letterbook, Annisquam Historical Society Journal, December 2015.
Ephraim and Ancona Robin James, for example, were young Biafran brothers from a royal African family, forced into slavery in 1767 following a massacre by British slavers. The boys were repeatedly sold, recaptured, and resold, back and forth between ports in North America and the British Isles. The story of their plight, campaigns for freedom, release from slavery via the English court system, and ultimate repatriation to their homeland in 1773 became a justification for Britain’s 1807 and 1833 anti-slavery laws and a benchmark of the abolition movement in Europe.64Sparks, Randy J. 2002. Two Princes of Calabar: An Atlantic Odyssey from Slavery to Freedom, The William and Mary Quarterly 59 (3): 555-584: https://www.jstor.org/stable/3491465.
The letters make the people and events real. A letter to Henry Wright from the famous English abolitionist Andrew Paton (1805-1884),65Unpublished transcription by Holly Clay Smith and Mary Ellen Lepionka, Annisquam Historical Society, Gloucester, MA. for example, reads in part:
Glasgow 30th January 1846
I wrote you…that I was glad of your continued success in diffusing Anti-Slavery. This morning I showed William Smeal your letter detailing your novel [experiences?] for returning from Scotland the disgrace brought on us by the “Free” taking “blood money” from the American slaveholders. [Smeal] was pleased with the idea & thinks if brought forward the best way will be at a public meeting in Glasgow on the return of yourself, Douglass, & Buffum. He is to consider of it further for a day, but this is his present opinion. [He] has another letter from Ian Fenwick informing the good meeting you had in Perth & sending a Perth newspaper containing a short notice of it….[The] paper contains report of an excellent meeting against militia on peace principles at which Stowel [William Scott—Lord Stowell?] spoke.
We are all well…. When do you return & what are your plans in the north! Best love from all to yourself, & D [Douglass] & B [Buffum] if in your company. I am, Dear Henry,
Wright joined the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1834 and for the next three years traveled to cities and towns throughout Massachusetts to spread the movement. The Gloucester neighborhood of Annisquam established an anti-slavery society in 1839. Wright met with famous abolitionists of his day, such as William Lloyd Garrison and Theodore Dwight Weld. In their Newburyport home Wright and his wife entertained the famous abolitionist sisters Sarah Grimke and Angelina Grimke Weld.The Wright Letterbook, Annisquam Historical Society Journal, December 2015.66
From 1842 to 1847 Wright traveled in Europe, lecturing, and many of the correspondents in his letterbook refer to the planning and execution of his efforts there and the response. The letters, from activists in England, Scotland, and Ireland, also discuss the outrages of the times and advise Wright to invite Frederick Douglass to speak in Boston. Wright alienated key figures in the abolition movement abroad, however, including James Buffum, George Thompson, and Frederick Douglass, because of his nonconforming religious views (he was against observing the Sabbath, for example) and his insults against members of the Free Church of Scotland.67Mabee, Carleton 1970, Black Freedom, The Nonviolent Abolitionists from 1830 through the Civil War. See also the National Library of Scotland: https://geo.nls.uk/maps/douglass/
Wright came to be regarded as so radical and inconsistent that the American Anti-Slavery Society removed him from membership and the Congregational Church dis-owned him.68Mabee, 1970, Black Freedom. He had changed his stance against non-violence to become more militant and anarchic. Despite an avowed commitment to pacifism, or “nonresistance”, he condoned the use of violence in anti-slavery interventions. Wright turned to spiritualism and shifted his efforts to fighting for women’s rights and world peace through “rule by individual conscience” (i.e., anarchy).69Braude, Ann, 2001, Radical Spirits: Spiritualism and Women’s Rights in Nineteenth-Century America (Indiana University Press), pp. 64-65.
Spiritualism was a religious movement that gained popularity during and after the Civil War and especially affected Universalists, who, like Wright, were among its public speakers and promoters. The movement was based on the belief that the soul can change and grow after death and that the living can have communion with the dead, principally through seances. It is estimated that by 1870 two or three million Americans believed this.